Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Around the Sound: Rayonier Mill's three-year timeline

by Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

Since announcing the new cleanup agreement with Rayonier, the most common community concern we’ve heard has been the slow progress of cleanup at the Port Angeles Rayonier Mill site. The most pressing issue is the three years it will take Rayonier to plan for cleanup of the Study Area—a portion of the overall site. Many members of the community would like to see shovels in the ground before 2013, for a variety of reasons related to restoring and reusing the former mill property.

So, does Rayonier really need three years to plan for cleanup? Yes, Rayonier and Ecology need the time to plan for a protective and effective cleanup, and here’s why...

Getting cleanup done

After nearly two decades of piecemeal investigation and cleanup, Ecology is ready to start wrapping up the Study Area—both upland and marine. When the former mill property is eventually restored or redeveloped, we want to make sure no further cleanup ever has to be done on that portion of the site. This means thoroughly investigating the extent of contamination in soil, groundwater, and sediments, throughout the Study Area (figure on the left).

Protecting human health and the environment

Cleaning up surface soils will probably protect humans from much of the potential contact with contaminants in the Study Area. However, we also have to be sure that the soil contamination is not seeping into groundwater, and ultimately into the harbor (figure on the right). This soil-to-groundwater pathway is one of the major unknowns Rayonier needs to address. We also need to clean up sediments because marine critters can be harmed by contaminants, and we humans eat those critters!

Doing it right the first time

Our schedule lists deliverables and review periods for each task in the Agreed Order, getting us to a three-year timeframe. Although it may seem like just process, each item is an important step towards getting those shovels in the ground. For example, going back and forth with Rayonier over sampling designs and double-checking lab data takes time, but it saves time in the end by making sure we get everything we need to finish the report.

The only way we can stay on track with the overall cleanup is to make sure Rayonier does each step right the first time. The cleanup of Bayou Bonfouca in Slidell, Louisiana was brought up during the open house. Although the 54-acre site is very different from Rayonier, it illustrates the pitfalls of starting cleanup before fully understanding the contamination. The site was listed by EPA in 1983 and by 1987 EPA had a cleanup plan. However, the plans had to be redone three years later because they significantly underestimated the amount of toxic waste. (Most soil and sediments were cleaned up by 1995, but groundwater treatment continues to this day.)

Finally, this three-year timeline will allow other cleanup or restoration work to happen—the City’s Combined Sewer Overflow project or Ennis Creek restoration. It also leaves the door open for a future buyer to join the Agreed Order. If any redevelopment plans were ready to move forward in the next three or four years, Ecology would still be willing to evaluate if they were compatible with cleanup of the Study Area. No, complete redevelopment probably can’t start in the next three years, but when it does happen, we can be confident in the cleanup.


Unknown said...

Three years is much too long to complete these tasks. The community is ready to get on with the clean up and redevelopment of this important site. The Department of Ecology and Rayonier should make a commitment to do everything possible to shorten this schedule.

Kent Myers
City Manager

Rebecca Lawson said...

Thank you, Kent. Ecology hears the community’s frustration. We need a realistic timeline that both Rayonier and Ecology can meet, but that also moves towards cleanup in a timely manner. Where we can, Ecology will work with Rayonier, stakeholders and any future owners on proposed restoration projects or targeted cleanup actions before 2013. But we won’t undermine the prompt and complete cleanup that state law promises.